TOKYO — International spectators will be barred from travelling to Japan for this summer’s delayed Olympic Games in Tokyo because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the International Olympic Committee and local organizers said Saturday.
The risk was too great to admit ticket holders from overseas, officials said. The idea has been strongly opposed by the public in Japan, where almost 9,000 people have died and over 455,000 people have been sickened by the virus.
The decision was announced after an online meeting of the International Olympic Committee, the Japanese government, the Tokyo government, the International Paralympic Committee, and local organizers — a group known as the “Five Parties.”
Calling it a “difficult decision,” IOC President Thomas Bach said: “We have to take decisions that may need sacrifice from everybody.”
Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the organizing committee, said they could have waited until the last moment to decide, but had made the choice to ease the burden on spectators with travel plans.
“They have to secure accommodations and flights,” she said. “So we have to decide early otherwise we will cause a lot of inconvenience from them. I know this is a very tough issue.”
In a statement the “Five Parties” said the decision would “further contribute to ensure safe and secure Games for all participants and the Japanese public.”
Around 1 million Olympic and Paralympic tickets are reported to have been sold to fans from outside Japan and organizers promised refunds, although this will be determined by so-called Authorized Ticket Resellers that handle sales outside Japan.
These dealers charge fees of up to 20 percent above the ticket price and it is unclear if the fees will be refunded.
Download the NBC News app for breaking news and politics
Overall, Japan is officially spending some $15.4 billion to organize the Olympics although several government audits say the actual cost may be twice that much. All but $6.7 billion is public money.
About 4.45 million tickets were sold to Japanese residents, and organizers are expected next month to announce the capacity at venues.
The Olympic Games will run from July 23 to August 8 followed by the Paralympic Games from August 24 to September 5.
The ban on foreign spectators comes just days before the Olympic torch relay starts Thursday from Fukushima prefecture in northeastern Japan — the site of a deadly earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster that took place a decade ago. The relay will last for 121 days, crisscross Japan with 10,000 runners, and is to end on July 23 at the opening ceremony at the National Stadium in Tokyo.
Around 11,000 athletes and tens of thousands of coaches are expected to attend the Games, along with other officials and broadcasters.
NBC Universal, which is the parent company of NBC News, owns the U.S. media rights to the upcoming Olympics.
“We will continue to do our utmost to deliver a safe and secure Games in the hopes that the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 will be a light of hope for people all over the world,” the organizers said in a statement.
Arata Yamamoto reported from Tokyo and Adela Suliman from London.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.